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Deep Minnow
By Art Scheck

One of the most popular flies of our time might also be one of the misunderstood. Maybe it's more accurate to say that many anglers see only part of the beauty of Bob Clouser's Deep Minnow design. When Lefty Kreh introduced Deep Minnows to the fly-fishing world in an article for Fly Fisherman magazine in the late 1980's, a fair number of anglers either praised or blasted the flies for their allegedly jig-like characteristics.

"This is a great fly," said some. "Thanks to its dumbbell eyes, it has a deadly jigging action that fish can't resist."

"These things aren't flies," said others. "They're merely jigs that heathens can throw with fly rods."

Neither extreme is right. Whether they love or hate Deep Minnows, folks who use the "fly-rod jig" label don't know much about jigs. It's practically impossible to impart a true jigging action to any lure with a fly-fishing outfit. Real jigs dart upward and then plummet very rapidly. The action comes from the movement of the rod, and one cannot replicate it with a 9-foot fly rod and 50 feet of fat fly line retrieved by stripping. A Deep Minnow doesn't have a genuine jigging action; rather, it takes a sinuous path as it swims, rising and falling in a series of curves. It is a nose-heavy, upside-down bucktail, and its movements are much less abrupt than those of, say, a rubber-skirted, 1/2-ounce spider jig manipulated by a bass fisherman.

...A Deep Minnow is not a difficult construction, but it does present a couple of durability challenges. Many tiers have trouble attaching dumbbell eyes so that they stay put. Others paint the eyes with finishes that chip off within half a dozen casts. Some tiers fail to protect the band of thread that secures the belly hair behind of eyes, and their flies fall apart after a few fish...

Three-Stage Minnows

Besides eyes that twist out of alignment, some Deep Minnows have another durability problem. If it's not cemented, the band of thread that secures the belly hair behind the eyes will abrade in a hurry. Once that band of thread falls apart, the fly loses its shape.

The solution is to protect that band of thread behind the dumbbell. As you'll see in a minute, we'll use an unusual, two-bobbin method to attach the belly hair, and we'll protect all the thread with cement before proceeding with the rest of the fly. And since we'll use two bobbins, we'll load the rear one with red thread. That way, the band of thread behind the eyes not only secure the belly hair, but also suggests a minnow's gills.

This approach isn't as time-consuming as it might seem. Tying production-line style is very efficient, and in this case produces a more durably fly. If a fly lasts longer in the field, I don't mind investing an extra two minutes at the vise.

Believe it or not, Deep Minnows come in colors other than chartreuse and white. Let's tie one that represents a variety of fresh- and saltwater baitfish - chubs, shiners, herring, baby bunker, silversides, and others. Here's what you'll need.

Materials List:

    Hook: Mustad 3366, size 2 or 2. If you want a saltwater fly, substitute a tinned or stainless hook.

    Thread: Three altogether - white Flymaster Plus to attach the eyes, any red thread for the band that secures the belly hair behind the eyes, and gray 6/0 or 8/0 for the nose.

    Eyes: A 1/50 or 1/36-ounce dumbbell painted with vinyl jig paint.

    Belly: White bucktail.

    Flash: Holographic silver Flashabou, silver Krystal Flash, pearlescent Flashabou, and pearlescent Krystal Flash. Use only four to six strands of each.

    Back: Gray bucktail topped with a little hair from the brown portion of the tail. [bucktail above]

Instructions - Deep Minnow:

1. Attach the thread behind the eye of the hook and wrap a spiral over two-thirds to three-quarters of the shank. Apply a smear of superglue to the spiral of thread.

2. Wrap a layer of thread forward over the wet superflue. Reverse direction and wrap to about the middle of the shank. The superglue will bond the thread to the hook.

3. Attach the dumbbell with a few X-wraps of thread as shown here. Make sure that it's straight, and then secure it by wrapping diagonally in one direction and then the other. Keep the thread tight as you wrap. Finish with a few more X-wraps.

4. Whip-finish the thread and cut it. Check the alignment of the eyes one more time, and then coat all the threads with superglue.

5. Give the eyes a coat of white vinyl jig paint. Let the white paint dry, and apply a coat of yellow or red. After that dries, give the entire dumbbell a coat of clear vinyl jig paint. Let the clear coat dry most of the way, and then apply the black pupils.

6. You need two bobbins for this operation. Load one with red thread and the other with whatever color you want to use for the nose of the fly. Attach the red thread behind the eyes. Tie on with the other thread at the front of the shank.

7. Attach a sparse clump of white bucktail at the front of the hook. Trim the butt ends and bind them down.

8. Whip-finish and clip the front thread. Pull the hair down behind the eyes and secure it with the red thread.

9. Wrap a band of red thread. Whip-finish and cut the thread. Give the red band two coats of good head cement or one coat of superglue. Let the cement dry.

10. Invert the hook and reattach the nose thread.

11. Tie on the flash material. The flashy stuff should be at least as long as the bucktail.

12. Attach a sparse clump of bucktail (gray, on this fly). Trim the butts, give them a drop of cement, and bind them down.

13. This step is optional, but it adds a nice touch. Cut a very small bundle of hair from the brown portion of the bucktail. Tie this dark hair on top of the previous bunch. Not that the dark hair is shorter than the material beneath it. Trim the butts, bind them down, and finish the fly's nose.

14. Cement the fly's nose, allowing a little cement to run back into the butts of the bucktail. One the finished fly, the band of red thread suggest a baitfish's gills. Since all of the thread has been cemented, the fly will hold up very well.

Options and Variations

Fly tiers make Deep Minnows in every imaginable color scheme, and they catch fish with all of them. Saltwater anglers have been particularly creative in cooking up new versions of this design, and I have nothing to add to their contributions. My only observation is that a lot of freshwater anglers still don't appreciate the value of small - tiny, even - Deep Minnows. A Deep Minnow tied on a size 8 nymph hook and with an extra-small dumbbell or small bead-chain eyes is a deadly panfish and trout fly. It's no harder to cast than, say a weighted Muddler or Woolly Bugger, but it snags much less often.

In sizes small than 6, standard-length hooks don't have enough room to permit the construction of a good Deep Minnow. Even a size 6 is often marginal. That's why I use 1X - or, more often, 2X-long nymph hooks for the smallest version of these flies. The longer shank has enough room for me to mount the eyes and tie down the belly hair. And a nymph hook's turned-down eye (which becomes a turned-up eye with this type of fly) helps a baby Deep Minnow flip over in the water, which lets me use lighter eyes. Small Aberdeen jig hooks are also good, especially if you want to tie miniature Deep Minnows for crappies, perch, or bluegills. ~ Art Scheck

Credits: From Tying Better Flies, by Art Scheck, published by The Countryman Press. We appreciate use permission.

For more great flies, check out: Beginning Fly Tying, Intermediate Fly Tying and Advanced Fly Tying.

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